George Santayana

by George W. Howgate
[University of Pennsylvania Press, $3.50]
THIS book should prove useful and interesting to the layman who has read Mr. Santayana over a period of years and needs a commentary sufficiently ample and systematic to bring the whole range of his work within a single view. Mr. Howgate seeks to trace the writings of Santayana all the way from their origins to their influence. He tries to bring together Santayana the poet, the essayist, the literary critic, the moral philosopher, the metaphysician, to relate all his activities with each other, with his personal character and history, with the Victorian world in which his mind was formed and the world before and after the European War in which it developed, with the countries in which he has lived and the deposits of the intellectual past which have collaborated in shaping his philosophy.
To make a really thoroughgoing and independently critical study of Santayana on so complete a plan would require immense gifts and half a lifetime devoted to no other purpose. Mr. Howgate remains on the level of the intelligently literary. He does not dive very deep, nor hazard any important judgments in his own right. If his book serves to make Santayana any more clear than Santayana makes himself, it is largely because of his patience and skill in laying out Santayana’s work in a convenient conspectus, so that its parts may be seen in relation to each other and its development may be better perceived.
Despite the emptiness, even perhaps obtuseness, of Mr. Howgate’s comments at times, he has done a good deal, it seems to me, to enable general readers to enter into Santayana’s work with understanding. His long chapter on Santayana as a literary critic is especially rewarding, and his chapter on Santayana as a metaphysician is particularly successful in making some thorny matters plainer to the general intelligence.